Shelburne Falls native volunteers at southern border

  • Halley Glier stands with three of her classmates at a respite center for asylum seekers in McAllen, Texas. Glier has been volunteering at the center for the past three weeks. Contributed photo

  • Halley Glier, 22, of Shelburne Falls, third from left, stands with fellow volunteers at the respite center. Contributed photo

  • Halley Glier of Shelburne Falls stands with her team of volunteers and U.S. Senator Edward Markey. Contributed photo

Staff Writer
Published: 7/26/2019 6:12:33 AM

McALLEN, Texas — As the southern border floods with people seeking refuge in the United States, last month Halley Glier of Shelburne Falls took a bus to Texas with her college classmates to offer some support.

Glier, 22, a graduate of Mohawk Trail Regional School, has been volunteering for the past three weeks at Catholic Charities Respite Center in McAllen, Texas.

“My overall experience has been amazing,” Glier said. “I’ve been able to learn a lot about the immigration system in general from all of the people around me. Respite requires so much constant adaptation and figuring out how to best function … I like to think that I’ve gotten this skill down over my three weeks, but there’s always more to learn.”

Glier, who is pursuing her master’s degree in community development and planning at Clark University starting in the fall, is volunteering with six other graduate students as part of an internship program offered by the college’s International Development, Community and Environment Department. She earned her bachelor’s degree in international development and social change and French language and literature from Clark University in May.

The respite center takes in migrants temporarily after they are released from a border jail or detention center and have found a place to live in the United States. Glier said she spends her days giving migrants meals and supplies as they prepare to begin a new life in the U.S. She organizes, cleans, works in the kitchen — whatever needs to be done, she said.

“Sometimes there are 12-hour days,” Glier said. “There’s always a need.”

Asylum seekers usually stay one night at the center before they travel to their new home. Though people at the center sleep on mattresses laid side-by-side on the floor, Glier noted even this is a step up from border jails or detention centers, where migrants often sleep on the ground.

As well as providing a meal to eat and a place to sleep, the respite center offers asylum seekers various supplies, including clothes, underwear, hygiene products, hair ties and shoelaces. Basic items are highly sought after, Glier said, because migrants are stripped of nearly everything they own when they enter a detention center. She noted she has seen migrants use silver emergency blankets as makeshift hair ties and even shoelaces, she said.

“That was just kind of surreal,” she said.

The respite center shelters 400 to 1,000 migrants per night, Glier said, with demand on the higher end lately. One night, 1,200 people came to the center, she said, prompting employees to transport some to the program’s former, shuttered location.

Although many asylum seekers arrive at the respite center “stressed” and “tense,” Glier said, their spirits usually lift.

“As soon as they come in the respite center, one of the main volunteers kind of gets on a microphone, and says in Spanish to everyone, ‘You’re in this place now, this is what this place is, these are the rules,’” Glier said. “And then she takes a moment and has everyone stop and clap for the fact that they are out of the detention center and they are here, which means they have a place in the United States to go.”

For Glier, that sound rouses emotion.

“Every time I hear clapping at the main entrance I light up a little bit,” Glier said, “because I know what it’s for.”

Reach Grace Bird at or 413-772-0261, ext. 280.

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